A bounty is a reward, usually monetary, promised for the accomplishment of a certain task. In many contexts, and particularly the world of One Piece, it refers to the sums placed on the capture (and/or death) of criminals such as pirates.
Most of the world's bounties are issued by the World Government—via the Marines—with the intent of publicizing criminals and spurring others to help capture them. The specific amounts are calculated by a special department within Marine Headquarters (currently headed by Commodore Brannew), based on the perceived threat level of a given criminal; the lowest can range below 100, the highest over 1,000,000,000.
The standard bounty is issued with a "Dead or Alive" clause, making both live captures and properly-confirmed kills eligible for the reward. However, according to Baroque Works, authorities may detract up to 30% of a bounty if presented with a dead criminal (as they favor formal executions). Additionally, an "Only Alive" clause has been knowingly (albeit temporarily) approved for at least one individual, due to political influence from a significant kingdom invested in his survival.
Bounties are not known to carry any statute of limitations; even criminals that have remained inactive for over a century, such as Dorry and Brogy, are viable as bounty heads. Certain circumstances may shield a bounty head from arrest—notably membership in the Seven Warlords of the Sea (which extends to all explicit subordinates) and slavery under the World Nobles—but retractions will automatically re-legitimize their arrest, and presumably their bounties.
(A murkier case exists for criminals—e.g. Jango—who are legitimately accepted into the Marines. It is possible this process includes a full bounty removal, though nothing has yet been conclusively demonstrated.)
It also remains unknown how (or where) exactly bounties are paid out, though the system is apparently reliable enough to support multiple industries of professional Bounty Hunters. Bounty collection is, predictably, barred to pirates and other major criminals, excepting petty miscreants such as the Franky Family.
A bounty reflects both the threat and power of an individual. Engaging in activities deemed criminal by the World Government or associating with groups which engage in them is enough to warrant significant bounties, even if the criminal is not powerful themselves. In particular, direct opposition to the World Government, no matter the reason, is treated as a serious offense, and bounties are issued accordingly.
After a bounty is issued, it can later be increased for several reasons:
- The threat of a person's observed combat abilities (as stated by Aokiji).
- More experienced bounty hunters volunteering to capture the individual or group (like the Accino Family, non-canonically, trying to catch the entire Straw Hat Crew).
- Further criminal acts beyond the initial one.
- Inspiring criminal acts when provoked or inciting others to act 'criminally' (for example, Whitebeard destroying Marine ships that followed his fleet for reconnaissance and Dragon leading his organization to conquer nations affiliated with the World Government).
- Having knowledge deemed illegal by the World Government, as with Nico Robin.
- Solely being associated with a notable criminal figure, as it happened at the end of the Dressrosa Arc when several of Monkey D. Luffy's crewmembers and allies all got flat increases of 50 Million regardless of their role or presence during the incident.
Occasionally, a designated amount on a bounty may increase if the criminal in question has committed crimes of considerable magnitude that goes beyond the crime(s) committed beforehand that earned them their initial bounty, as with the case of Luffy.
Since the Marines can only issue bounties based on their knowledge of the criminal in question, a bounty may not necessarily reflect the true threat of a person. Tony Tony Chopper was mistaken for a mere pet and issued a mere 50, as the Marines were unaware he was responsible for defeating Kumadori of CP9. Luffy's bounty would doubtless be much higher if his defeat of Gecko Moria wasn't kept secret by the government. Arlong, despite being a Grand Line pirate, had a far lower bounty than his overall threat level to the East Blue, as he bribed the corrupt Marine Nezumi in order to keep his activities secret. In some cases, due to miscommunication or unreported information, the bounty may end up being much higher or lower than what the criminal deserved for their actions.
Bounties are conventionally issued through wanted posters (手配書 tehai-sho?): single, easily-portable leaflets depicting each criminal's portrait, name, and reward amount. These are regularly circulated in newspapers across the world, and are commonly found in public locations such as taverns in addition to the expected Marine Bases and ships.
The most important part of a poster is the person's portrait. It allows swift identification upon sighting the person and informs everyone in the world of their wanted status. The picture normally takes the form of a photograph; if a suitable photograph is unavailable, an artist's rendering may be substituted as in the case of Sanji. To some (including Sanji), a decent photograph is as important as the bounty itself, it being the only way to be associated with the bounty on the poster—due to misfortune on Sanji's behalf, a rather crude drawing is used, which led to another person taking the blame for a certain period due to sheer coincidence. A new picture can be issued to account for any change in appearance (such as Robin). If a person wears a disguise that makes them look different, and they are recognized by that disguise, then they can fool the system, as shown with Charlotte Cracker.
One of the most mysterious things about wanted posters is the Marines' ability to obtain photos of almost every criminal with a bounty. These photos are eventually revealed to be taken by the Marine Photography Branch Captain "Flaming Attach", who received his name by shouting "Fire!" instead of "Cheese!" when taking a picture. Alternatively, should a photo be unavailable, a sketch will be made of the criminal. Mr. 13 and Miss Friday were employed by the Marines to identify the remaining Baroque Works agents—the Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 pairs—through this method. Sanji, on the other hand, suffered the indignity of having a poorly sketched image.
It is possible for two or more individuals to share one bounty poster, as with Dorry and Brogy, in which the portrait was a collage of the two pirates; Sham and Buchi, both of whom share the bounty of 7,000,000; and (non-canonically) the Red Arrows Pirates, the entire crew being presented on the poster. Whether this means that all the individuals presented in the document must be brought in together, or that each member is worth the claimed amount, is unknown.
The Marines give criminals, especially pirates, epithets with the bounty poster that either describes their appearance (such as Buggy "The Clown"), what their powers/abilities are (such as "Black Leg Sanji" or "King of Snipers Sogeking"), or what they do (such as "Cat Burglar Nami" or "Pirate Hunter Zoro"). Sometimes, it is just the most common nickname a person has (Luffy was called "Straw Hat" before his first bounty was issued). Sometimes, although rare, these nicknames are included into the poster's distribution, such as Usopp's second poster reading "God Usopp".
Bounties can be highly effective in publicizing and ostracizing criminals from lawful society, and are hence despised by those like Kuro (and, to a lesser extent, Nami) who seek those very comforts. Indeed, a bounty can turn entire communities against even children, as with Nico Robin in the wake of the Ohara Incident.
On the other hand, those—especially pirates—that embrace criminality and notoriety hold bounties in considerable pride. The male Straw Hat Pirates display theirs near the Thousand Sunny's sleeping quarters (with Sanji in particular being highly opinionated about both his bounty amount and portrait), and regularly celebrate any increases; these celebrations are often mirrored by their friends and allies, civilians included.
Regardless of the discrepancies, bounties are still treated as a way to determine a person's average threat level, being the one facet of society that can be easily compared. Stacking them against averages helps determine threats in relation to location; for example, the average bounty in the East Blue is 3,000,000, so a noteworthy one there would be 10,000,000 or more. Since East Blue is defined as the weakest of the four seas outside of the Grand Line, the West Blue, North Blue, and South Blue must all have higher average bounties and have a greater number of famous criminals hailing from their waters. However, the four blue seas pale in comparison to the Grand Line (up to Mary Geoise), where an exceptional bounty is around 100,000,000, which is considered nothing in the New World (the second half of the Grand Line), where 100,000,000 is common or weak. Any bounty that goes to 1,000,000,000 or over is considered monstrous, even in the New World. High-ranked subordinates of Four Emperors are known to surpass or get close to those figures occasionally since their bounties tend to raise in tandem with their captain's.
While the details of how high a bounty could be are not exactly known, the greatest amount revealed in the first half of the story was that of the 550,000,000 bounty of Portgas D. Ace before his death, who was one of the most notorious pirates of the New World, the 2nd division commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, and most notably the son of the infamous Pirate King, Gol D. Roger himself. The current highest active bounty is that of Emperor Kaidou with a bounty of 4,611,100,000.
While a pirate with a bounty of 300,000,000 is still considered a rookie, once a pirate exceeds that value it is difficult to get any higher, and it seems that 400,000,000 is enough to be considered an elite pirate. While the Seven Warlords are also important pirates in the world, some of their former bounties are not particularly high, however it should be noted that these are their former bounties which do not represent the threat that they could have achieved as active pirates. After Jinbe resigned, his bounty jumped to over 400,000,000.
In terms of piracy, any rookie who has earned a bounty of over 100,000,000 is considered impressive, and can be considered as a "Supernova" (超新星 Chōshinsei?). The Worst Generation (最悪の世代 Saiaku no Sedai?) of Supernovas were during the Golden Age of Piracy, when eleven of them almost simultaneously appeared on Sabaody Archipelago, each holding a bounty of over 100,000,000, and each member had caused a great influence within the New World, as well as earning themselves much notoriety.
Earning a large bounty in a relatively short period of time also gives the pirate notorious attention and a global reputation. After earning a bounty of 80,000,000 in a single campaign, the World Government offered Boa Hancock a position among the Seven Warlords of the Sea. Blackbeard believed he could become a Warlord if he defeated Monkey D. Luffy, whose bounty had jumped from 30,000,000 to 100,000,000 following the defeat of Baroque Works and their leader Crocodile. Blackbeard would settle for achieving his goal by turning in Portgas D. Ace instead since Ace had caught up with him and Blackbeard emerged victorious.
(According to Bellamy, it is common for pirates to exaggerate their bounties and even forge wanted posters to build up an intimidating reputation. However, no actual instances of this (apart from the Fake Straw Hat Crew, who were impersonating legitimate bounty heads) have been seen thus far.)
Thus far, two other bounty/wanted systems have been depicted outside the standard World Government system:
- Fish-Man Island, for a time, circulated posters for Vander Decken IX (and possibly his ancestors). These, notably, were headed with "DANGER" and displayed neither "DEAD OR ALIVE" nor a specific bounty.
- Dressrosa, by decree of its king Donquixote Doflamingo, briefly placed bounties on the five Straw Hat Pirates and seven independent allies opposing the Donquixote Pirates' rule. These were organized along a five-star scale: each star represented 100,000,000 of reward.
Anime and Manga Differences
While the manga depicts wanted posters with only the standard "WANTED/DEAD OR ALIVE" labels, names, and bounty amounts legible, many anime episodes also expand the text in each poster's bottom-left corner into legible (if facetious) text:
This is a rough romaji transcription of the Japanese for, "Because this performance is fiction, existing characters, associations and other organizations with similar names which appeared during the play are without exception unrelated" (この作品はフィクションですので実在する人物団体、その他の組織と同一の名称が劇中に登場、したとしても実在なものとは一切無関係です?)—essentially an "All persons are fictitious" disclaimer.
Translation and Dub Issues
More generally, wanted posters are often edited to match the official English names from 4Kids and/or VIZ Media—e.g. Zoro to Zolo, Brogy to Broggy, and Bon Kurei to Bon Clay. These tend to be given little, if any, weight when determining canonical name spellings.
While wanted posters are usually not sold as standalone merchandise, they are frequently incorporated into other products, such as the packaging of various toys and the character-select menus of various video games. Many of these tend to be mock-ups, using the poster layout to depict characters with canonically unknown (or even nonexistent) bounties.
The One Piece Magazine includes a complementary wanted poster with each issue. On it, the line at the bottom reads, "The World Government is offering a reward for information leading directly to the capture of this individual. If you have any information please contact Naval Authorities".
- Higuma's wanted poster does not have the word "MARINE" at the bottom. Also, Curly Dadan's wanted poster mock-up in Vivre Card - One Piece Visual Dictionary has the word "COAST GUARD" instead of "MARINE".
- Law's wanted poster shows Bepo appearing in the background with his head turned in the same position and stance as Usopp in Luffy's first wanted poster photo.
- Brook is the only known criminal who was issued a completely uniquely-designed wanted poster by the World Government, as they used one of his old concert posters rather than the standard brown-colored design.
- Caesar Clown, Usopp, Brook, and Capone Bege are the only ones who have both their names and epithets appear on their poster (though Brook's and Caesar's epithets are abbreviated).
- Bentham (Mr. 2 Bon Kurei) and Kyros (Thunder Soldier) have their aliases instead of their names, the same for Usopp's former bounty (Sogeking). Baroque Works' officer agents' wanted posters shown in "Vivre Card" (with the exception of Daz Bonez) also have their aliases.
- Lip Doughty's bounty poster in the non-canon One Piece: Stampede included his epithet.
- Sanji's first bounty poster is the only one known to use a sketch instead of a photograph for the picture. As a consequence, this poster is also the only one to depict another person in the picture entirely, as the drawing ended up perfectly resembling Duval, though completely unintentionally.
- Sanji is the only known bounty holder to have been wanted "Only Alive". This was due to his father pulling strings to ensure his son's live capture so he can use him to cement his alliance with Big Mom.
- In the real world, it's actually more common for bounties to be "wanted alive". But this is due to the reasons for the bounty and in One Piece bounties are people the World Government wants to either execute or imprison for life. Real world bounties may be for people the authorities simply want to question as part of an investigation. In such cases killing the individual would completely negate the purpose of the bounty.
- All five members of the boy band Arashi also had "Only Alive" on their posters during the A-ra-shi: Reborn music video.
- The Red Arrows Pirates are the only crew where every member shares one single bounty.
- It is possible for pets to earn bounties, which are far lower than standard. Both Tony Tony Chopper and Bepo, mistaken for pets, were given such treatment.
- In real life, the highest known bounty for piracy was £1000, placed on Henry Avery and his crew by Great Britain's East India Company. Due to the many historical fluctuations of the pound sterling, sources differ on what exactly this should amount to after adjusting for inflation; the highest estimates place it around £153,000 (approx. $199,600 or ¥21,330,000) circa 2020.
- Oda stated that if Enel were actually a wanted criminal, he would have a bounty that could reach up to 500,000,000.
- In the first databook, Kuro's bounty is stated to be 16,000,000. But in the Movie 9 opening sequence it is incorrectly shown as 14,000,000.
- The second volume of the One Piece Magazine has a list of 67 known bounties at the time of its release, organized in descending order.
- The bounties of the original Four Emperors and Gol D. Roger seem to feature goroawase wordplay in the smaller digits.
- Shanks' bounty of 4,048,900,000: 4-8-9 can be read as shi-ya-ku (シヤク). This could refer to his given name "Shanks" (シャンクス Shankusu?).
- Charlotte Linlin's bounty of 4,388,000,000: 8-8 can be reads as ha-ha. 母 (haha) means "mother", which could refer to her epithet, "Big Mom" (ビッグ・マム Biggu Mamu?).
- Kaidou's bounty of 4,611,100,000: 110 as a whole number is hyaku-jū. This could refer to Kaidou's epithet, "Kaidou of the Beasts" (百獣のカイドウ Hyakujū no Kaidō?).
- Edward Newgate's bounty of 5,046,000,000: 4-6 can be read as shi-ro. 白 (shiro) means "white", which could refer to his epithet, "Whitebeard" (白ひげ Shirohige?, Viz: Whitebeard).
- Roger's bounty of 5,564,800,000: 6-4-8 can be read as ro-shi-ya (ロシヤ). This could refer to his given name "Roger" (ロジャー Rojā?).
- Bounties—Wikipedia on bounties.